Midweek wrap-up in Silicon Valley: Click-fraud, Cisco's offensive & more

Updated

Click Fraud

Click-fraud, a pending calamity? — Here’s an eye-opening column by our Mercury News colleague Mike Langberg about the problem of click-fraud, but it may only scratch the surface.

If this problem of false clicking on Web sites is really getting out of hand, the Web 2.0 house-of-cards could come crashing down sooner than we think. So what (or who) is stopping these new Web sites from pumping their own traffic and ad revenue count by encouraging others (or perhaps taking the action themselves) to make “false” clicks on their site and on the advertisements that run on them?

Erik Straser, venture capitalist at Mohr Davidow, expressed concern about the lack of a neutral and authoritative arbiter for verifying traffic at Web sites, which all seem to conveniently boast nice growth trends: “There’s no Pricewaterhousecoopers for this,” he said, speaking with us in a hallway during a recent technology conference. “It’s kind of the myth the whole eco-system is built on.” What would happen, another investor standing beside him asked, if there was an official audit of these sites, and click-fraud is found to be running at 20 to 30 percent? No one answered the question.

Cisco storming your living room — We’ve mentioned it before, Cisco is serious about moving into the consumer Internet area, and that means into your living room. Today it was announced that Cisco is contributing to a $16 million investment into Widevine Technologies, a video-content security start-up. Ned Hooper, vice president of Cisco’s business development told us recently that “music, video, and news information content is the core driver of our business today.” From Cisco’s investments into Moviebeam, Linksys, Scientific-Atlanta, CinemaNow, KISS and more, the message should be clear.

Kleiner Perkins’ latest deal — Top Silicon Valley venture firm Kleiner Perkins has led a $6.9 million round in Santa Clara’s OptiMedica Corp., which is developing devices to treat ophthalmic diseases.

DFJ’s guns ablazin’ in China — Silicon Valley venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson may yet teach us a lesson for questioning its resolve in China. No fewer than three DFJ affiliated funds have invested $6 million in Shanghai-based Miartech, a company that makes semiconductors to let electric utilities make more efficient meter readings, according to VentureWire. Draper Fisher Jurvetson, DFJ’s new China affiliate, DFJ DragonFund China, and its new clean tech fund, DFJ Element, all invested. It is the first investment for the latter two funds, and comes after we wondered aloud whether DFJ’s campaign in China was foundering after several defections. Miartech, meanwhile, has opened an office here in Silicon Valley.

Blackberry vs. Redberry — In the early 20th century European continent struggles, we had the capitalist fascists in black shirts versus the communist reds. In the early 21st century we in the West have the “Blackberrys,” while China Unicom, a Chinese telecom provider, has recently launched its own e-mail service, the “RedBerry.”

The entrepreneur who had the early Blackberry-like idea — In case you missed it, here’s the NYT story of Geoff Goodfellow, the Silicon Valley guy who came up with the wireless messaging idea that resulted in a $612.5 million payday, but who will never see a penny of it.

Lawyers from NTP paid a visit him, however, and then apparently made sure his work wasn’t revealed, helped NTP receive $612.5 million in a settlement reached last month in its patent infringement suit against Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry.

W.R. Hambrecht hires former analyst who some say was conflicted — W.R. Hambrecht, the San Francisco investment bank made a big deal about transparency and cutting out conflicts in the IPO process, and pitched Google to launch an auction IPO, which it said is fairer to individual investors. But now W.R. Hambrecht is hiring Tim Mahon as an analyst. BusinessWeek has the news:


At Credit Suisse First Boston, Mahon wrote an e-mail that became a kind of minor classic of the late-1990s genre of analysts hemming and hawing and finding any way available not to say nasty things about investment banking clients that happened to be bad investments. In a note to a colleague, Mahon urged the other analyst to consider doing what became known as “the Agilent two-step:” You put a buy recommendation on the banking client’s stock in public, but in private you tell institutional trading clients to stay away….

Confirmed: Mullenweg raises $1.1M — Last week, we reported that Matt Mullenweg had raised cash for his blog software company, Automattic, but didn’t know the amount. BusinessWeek points to regulatory filing showing it was $1.1 million.

Visible Path scores $17 millionVisible Path is a Foster City start-up is a company that lets business professionals network. It has been relatively quiet compared to other players going after the business networking area, including LinkedIn and Jigsaw. Its announcement is here. Investors include Menlo Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Integral Capital Partners and Silicon Valley Bank.

AT&T strikes Internet TV deal – AT&T is one of the biggest phone providers in Silicon Valley, and so residents may be interested to know it will team up with San Mateo start-up Akimbo (backed by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins) to allow customers to download movies and shows over the Internet. It is scheduled to start by late summer. Here is the Merc story (free registration).

Skype implements censor in China — In the past, Skype has touted how its conversations are encrypted, the implication being that users aren’t being tracked or otherwise having their communications filtered. Now we learn the company apparently has a text filter in place to censor Skype text chat conversations in China. Skype, now owned by eBay, becomes the latest Silicon Valley company to comply to Chinese censorship demands.

And yet another Web 2.0 video company: ClickTVClickTV is based in Menlo Park, run and self-funded by entrepreneur Mike Lanza. He’s still pre angel-funding. He says he is hoping to leverage the “untapped potential” of video based on Flash technology, and is getting good support from Flash makers Adobe/Macromedia. It has yet to launch, but here is a demo. Mark also has a noteworthy blog note on the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

Late-stage VCs getting crunched — Palo Alto’s Focus Ventures has closed its third fund with $250 million (here is their announcement) — nearly half the size of the firm’s previous $465 million fund. Focus is one of those firms that likes to invest later in a company, say in its third round. Things are less risky at that stage, because there’s more assurance that the company has traction. The downside is that late-state investors pay a higher price to invest, because start-ups are more confident by that stage and demand a premium in return for their shares. And in these times, when its costs so little to start an Internet company, folks like Focus are getting squeezed. That’s because early-stage venture firms like to hold on to more of their companies, because they can afford to — which shuts out guys like Focus. Take Facebook’s $25 million venture round we mentioned yesterday. Instead of three or four later-stage companies jointly investing $50- or $100 million to lead the third round — as you often saw during the Internet bubble days — you saw only one firm lead the round: Greylock, a firm that usually likes to invest early. Accel’s Jim Breyer, an early investor in Facebook, told us he invested enough money in this latest round to hold on to the percentage ownership stake he already owns, another sign that early-stage guys are holding their ground.

Focus partner Steve Bird said the later-stage investors are having trouble investing their money, which is why Focus has taken seven years to invest the fund it raised in 1999. It still has cash left over from that fund to make new investments, he said. And while that fund still hasn’t made money, he expects it will in the future, he told us.

UC Berkeley team prove human evolution — A team at the University of California, Berkeley say they have found ‘proof’ of human evolution. They say the fossil remains of eight individuals found in the northeastern Afar region of Ethiopia belonged to a species thought to be a direct ancestor to humans, and are an intermediate tie to the earlier species, Ardipithecus ramidus.